U.S. Asks Justices to Block Ohio Prisoner Release

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The Justice Department has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt a Cleveland federal judge’s order to make efforts to clear out a federal prison in Ohio where the coronavirus has killed nine inmates. DOJ told the high court that U.S. District Judge James Gwin’s order that mandated staff at the Elkton prison identify, release and transfer inmates vulnerable to the coronavirus was “deeply flawed.” Gwin’s order asked officials to clear out inmates 65 years old and older and those with certain pre-existing medical conditions so they can better social distance. The Bureau of Prisons identified more than 800 inmates who meet those criteria. The judge said Tuesday that the efforts to transfer or release inmates have been woefully slow and inadequate, reports Cleveland.com.

Gwin ordered the bureau to speed up its evaluations, to loosen requirements on what inmates may be eligible for home confinement, and to make several reports to him. The first report is due by the close of business Thursday. A federal appeals court in Cincinnati declined to overturn Gwin’s April order. U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco said the judge’s order goes too far and that it’s impractical to release or so many prisoners during the pandemic. “The general threat of COVID-19 coupled with what [the judge] viewed as inadequate testing and social distancing could not remotely justify the peremptory order to remove more than 800 inmates from Elkton,” Francisco said. Elkton, 100 miles south of Cleveland, is home to more than 2,300 male inmates. As of Wednesday, 119 inmates and eight staff members had tested positive for the virus. Nine inmates have died.

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